And I’m off on safari! My first day in Hwange was, as always, memorable. It started with a surprise pick-up in Victoria Falls by Imvelo’s Managing Director Mark Butcher! Getting to spend time with Butch and hearing the latest stories from Hwange is always exciting and very inspiring. ⠀
Arriving at Bomani Tented Lodge, I was warmly greeted by Sibs Sibanda, Imvelo’s legendary head guide and Demi Mooy, the wonderful Bomani manager. As the first American in camp since March, I was presented with the Stars and Stripes for a photo opp! Knowing that Democracy was hard at work back home, it felt especially meaningful.
The following morning, Sibs and I went for a morning game drive and walk around Stofie’s Pan in Hwange where we found a fresh wildebeest killed by lion. No sign of the lions as they had been driven off by hyena. Back on the Bomani concession, we encountered a beautiful but very skinny young dispersing female cheetah, which Sibs and Butch named Ria in honor of my elderly house cat Rio! She was looking VERY hungry but we got good news on Sunday that she’d killed an impala! Happy days! ⠀
Sibs and I departed early the next day for the most remote camp in Zimbabwe and my personal favorite, Jozibanini, where we’d spend the next four days! Bliss! ⠀
It’s a full day’s drive to Jozi but with plenty of game viewing opportunities along the way – especially at the waterholes pumped and maintained by Imvelo. It’s a great way to begin an adventure at this remote outpost in the far south of Hwange, appropriately known as the “Southern Wilderness Area” of the park. Jozi is the only camp for 65+ miles – talk about social distance!
On arrival at the Makona ranger station about 20km from camp, we were informed that the group of Americans were coming in a day early and landing within the hour! Makona is the last outpost before Jozi where you can use the WiFi and send those final WhatsApp messages, Facebook updates and Instagram posts!
Learn about the history of Jozi in this webinar:
We picked up the pace and Sibs dropped me at Jozi to go collect the guests at the nearby Libuti airstrip, about 10km from camp. Jozi was just as I remembered it from my last visit several years ago – remote and wild. There were elephants at the waterhole and an absence of man made sound. Camp manager Big Boy popped out to start the diesel after the sun started to fade and the ‘beating heart of Hwange’ started up as a thunderstorm rolled in (Imvelo uses a solar/hybrid pumping system as in the peak of the dry season, the wildlife drink 24-7 and without the diesel engine pumps at night, the waterholes would dry up). After the other guests arrived, the lightning started in earnest, silhouetting the elephants at the waterhole and making for a dramatic dinner scene. Everyone was thrilled at the storm and the elephants until we were driven into our tents for dessert as the rain started in earnest.
Our next three days at Jozi were all about the elephants. The intimacy of viewing them from the “Look-up” blind is nothing short of remarkable. It is an experience that isn’t found anywhere else. The pumped water here is the only source for many miles, and watching thirsty elephants run for the water is moving. Watching them fight over it is astonishing. It almost seems inevitable that a big bull will come in and bully all of the other elephants until he’s had his fill. Even still, he may try to keep thirsty mothers and teenagers from the water just to demonstrate his dominance. No matter what, the look up blind is mesmerizing. The close up view of elephants and their behavior is incredible. Several of the guests in the group were visiting Africa for the first time, and to see things through their eyes made it even more special.
Walking is another activity to enjoy at Jozi. It’s an early start to avoid the heat of the day and it can take the form of anything from tracking a predator to learning about the small stuff – spoor identification, examination of bones, watching termites at work – there is so much to see and discover. We spent our mornings walking followed by game drives and afternoons in the hide. There is also seasonal mountain biking at Jozi, but this late in the season when resources are short and wildlife is stressed, mountain biking is not an option.
On one of our late morning game drives, the Jozi camp team surprised us with a bush lunch. Coming around a corner we found Big Boy and Shedrick smiling and waving with a table and chairs set up under a beautiful tree with lovely views much to everyone’s surprise and delight. We enjoyed a delicious and leisurely lunch watching wildlife pass in the distance.
No one goes hungry at Imvelo’s camps, even in this very remote place! Despite the rustic nature of Jozibanini, the chef turns out hearty and delicious meals. We even had a birthday cake for one of the travelers! The first one they brought out turned out to be frozen elephant dung with icing – watching Kevin cut into it and discover what it was was a real laugh for everyone! The camp team had read the group well and knew the gesture would be greeted with mirth. It was a happy and funny birthday in the bush.
Another favorite of a stay at Jozi is the chance to sleep in a star bed. The tents have large front decks that allow the bed(s) to be rolled out for a sleep under the stars. I can’t tell you how much I love falling asleep to the sounds of the bush, and at Jozi that includes elephants trumpeting, hyenas whooping and lions calling. The heavens sparkle above your bed, a gentle breeze cools you, and you just might be in for the best sleep of your life with sweet dreams of elephants.
Leaving Jozi was bittersweet, but the full day safari driving to Bomani was in itself an adventure. To save on plastic, we refilled water bottles at waterhole pumps along the way, saying hello to the pump attendants and getting a behind-the-scenes look at what keep a waterhole running. As we neared the Ngamo plains we were treated to myriad sightings including giraffe, wildebeest, impala, ostriches and more. The highlight was Sibs finding not one, but two different pairs of mating lions, as well as a small group of males. The wind kicked up to create more drama with whipping manes, making for great photography.
We were warmly welcomed to Bomani and treated to a refreshing beverage. Demi, the very lovely lodge manager, gave a thorough briefing, detailing COVID procedures – both how guests should practice safety as well as outlining how the camp is cleaning and sanitizing rooms and high-touch surfaces. Camp staff wear masks at all times, as well as gloves when serving food and drinks. Guests are asked to sanitize their hands every time they enter the main lodge and have their temperature taken and recorded at least once per day. Guests can choose to wear masks at their discretion in the common areas of camp, though they should bring them on game drives and transfers as they are required when stopping at national parks facilities. Additionally, there is no more communal dining, guests are asked to properly socially distance from one another and guides now only dine with guests on request. They have clearly taken all safety precautions into consideration. (Download the Imvelo Covid protocols and safety measures here).
Before going to our rooms, we were treated to a huge herd of wildebeest streaming into camp for a drink. I’m writing this from my ‘office’ in the Bomani splash pool while watching a troop of baboons and a lone wildebeest drink their fill during the heat of the day.
The next few days we’ll be at Bomani and Camelthorn and then it’s up to Nehimba to finish our time in Hwange. Stay tuned for more reports from the bush!